In France, there are two types of bakery — artisan and non-artisan (aka industrial). Artisan bakeries combine their bread mix on site and never freeze their dough. Bakeries that make up bread off site (even if they bake it on site and even if the mix they use off-site is their own recipe) are not allowed to use the term ‘artisan‘.
Artisan-baked goods tend to have a reputation as being superior to non-artisan treats. Sometimes, they deserve it. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case. You might remember that I recently wrote about how evil the baguette is due to bread-based injuries my friends and I have suffered. There was banter in the comment section about how a decent baguette from an artisinal boulanger would always be suprerior. I disagree entirely.
Pictured are two treats I’ve purchased from two separate artisan bakeries here in the Aravis region of the French Alps in the past month. That flat thing that looks like a chocolate chip cookie is actually a pain au chocolat. It tasted alright, but it was sold squashed. The photo really doesn’t show just how flat it was. When you’re paying a premium from an artisan product, you kind of expect it to be the shape that even the supermarket bakeries get right. No such luck that day, and no discount.
Not pictured are the croissants that I bought on my way to the piste last month. Eager to attack the fresh snow, my friend and I stopped in at an artisan bakery for a breakfast on the run. We opened our bag on the chairlift and discovered that the croissants were badly burnt. No worries: in an attempt to make it all okay, the baker had lacquered the entire outside of each croissant in sugar syrup. So, now we had sweet croissants with a burnt after taste. Yum…
Back to the photos. The croix de Savoie is a local product that is sold with pride. In Haute Savoie, it’s a brioche (sweet bread) in the shape of a cross, with custard baked inside and lumps of sugar on top. It’s the Savoyarde equivalent of a custard scroll. I’m not quite sure what happened to this one. I’m sure it hadn’t been baked that day. To call it solid would be too kind. It was so bad, I threw the rest away. Not just stale, the bread was tasteless and the tiny hint of custard was dry and impossible to distinguish from the bread.
In my previous post about bread, Le Panier took a battering for not being artisan and therefore not providing a decent baguette. Strangely enough, this is my favourite bakery for lots of reasons. First of all, I’ve never thrown out one of their products, nor been disappointed by the taste or appearance. Secondly, they don’t close at midday, when people are hungry and want to buy bread. Finally — and most importantly — they’re forward thinking: new products appear regularly; organic bread and healthy options are available; and, the staff actually smile. It’s taken me three years to get a smile out of the local baker lady here in St Jean de Sixt. I had an entire one-way conversation with myself in the other local bakery, where the woman said nothing. Nothing! She didn’t even bother telling me how much I needed to pay. I wished myself a nice day and left.
For all the prestige that goes with artisan bread, I’ll take that dodgy factory bread any day. Who is with me?